How to Prep for Your McKinsey Experienced Hire Interview

McKinsey experienced hire interview prep
Wambui Waiganjo
Wambui Waiganjo

Former McKinsey Senior Associate. MBChB University of Nairobi. MBA, UCLA Anderson School of Business.

You’ve decided you want to switch careers to a job in management consulting. But how do you prepare for the McKinsey experienced hire interview? I have made this transition into consulting and you can too.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What McKinsey looks for in experienced hire applicants.
  • Why consulting firms use case interviews.
  • What a case interview is.
  • How to prepare for the McKinsey experienced hire case interview.
  • How to prepare for McKinsey’s personal experience interview.

 Let’s get started!

What Does McKinsey Look for in the Experienced Hire Interview?

Example of a McKinsey experienced hire interview prep

If you guessed, “My experience,” you are right. Your experience in industry and your education are key to getting your foot in the door. This should shine through your consulting resume and cover letter. Once you are selected for an interview, a recruiter will contact you to schedule a general informational interview.

This initial interview resembles most job interviews you may have experienced and lasts 30-45 minutes. The objective is to validate that you are who your resume says you are and that you are a good culture fit from the recruiter’s point of view.

The interview begins with the recruiter telling you about themselves and about the role including the location(s). The recruiter then asks you a series of questions.

Questions You May Be Asked in the McKinsey Recruiter Interview

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • In your current role, tell me about a project you worked on.
  • What was your biggest challenge in your previous role? How did you overcome it?
  • In your capacity as {insert a role from your resume}, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • Why are you interested in working in management consulting?
  • Why are you interested in working for McKinsey?

You will then have an opportunity to ask the recruiter questions. It’s important to note here that McKinsey recruiters do not work on projects as consultants. So though they know about the role and the expectations for consultants, it is more useful in this interview to ask questions about the people operations (HR) side of the role and the interview process.

Questions You Can Ask Your McKinsey Recruiter

What are some of the challenges outside of the projects that consultants at this office experience?

  • How is this McKinsey office performing on diversity equity and inclusion?
  • How would you advise me to prepare for the next interview? Can you share some preparation materials?
  • What are all my location options for this role?
  • Do you offer a moving allowance?
  • What are the compensation and benefits in this role? When do the benefits begin? Who is the 401k provider?

The interview process will provide a segue for the recruiter to provide you with information about the next interviews. Once you are successful at the recruiter interview, you will be invited to the McKinsey Case interviews.

The McKinsey Case Interview for Experienced Hires

These are typically 4 interviews lasting 1 – 1 hour 15 minutes each. The first 2 interviews are usually on the same day and conducted by Engagement Managers (these are consultant project managers). Success in this round earns you an invite to the final 2 interviews. At the final 2 interviews, you will meet McKinsey partners from the office where you will be located.

 These 4 interviews consist of 2 elements:

  1. Case Interview where you will showcase your Problem-Solving skills, analytical thinking, and creative recommendations.
  2. Personal Experience Interview:
    1. An opportunity to demonstrate Personal Impact and Entrepreneurial Drive from a past project.
    2. Questions to reveal Inclusive Leadership and Team Spirit.

I’ll discuss both the case and personal experience interview below, as well as provide insight on how to do well on them as an experienced hire candidate.

What is a Case Interview?

A case interview is a structured interview methodology where the candidate is presented with a hypothetical business problem to navigate. To pass it, you need to identify the root cause of the problem and develop recommendations to solve it.

For example:

Our client is MedPharma, a pharmaceutical company based in Germany that has recently developed a consumer product for the US market. MedPharma has approached McKinsey to assess manufacturing opportunities for their new product.

MedPharma is considered a global leader in pharmaceuticals (prescription medicines) and consumer health (over-the-counter self-care products such as painkillers). MedPharma currently manufactures its products in Germany. This new product has large potential in the US market, so MedPharma is exploring other manufacturing locations.

You will then be asked what areas would you like to look into to understand the attractiveness of manufacturing locations.

You are expected to outline a framework, a list of 3-5 issues you would analyze to help the client assess alternative locations. As you work through your analysis, the interviewer will provide you with some simple data to perform quantitative calculations.

With this information, the interviewer will expect that you are able to synthesize your findings and provide initial conclusions.

In order to be exhaustive, the interviewer will ask what other opportunities might exist that we could potentially explore. This is your chance to be creative and think outside the box.

To conclude, the interviewer will ask that you summarize the case in a succinct way including your recommendations.

The case interview is a lively discussion between yourself and a future teammate. It is not an exam between a student and teacher. This means you should ask clarifying questions, ask for more information, think out loud and share relevant real-life anecdotes.

It typically lasts 40-45 minutes.

If you prepare well in advance, the topic will not matter, it will be an enjoyable discussion for both you and the interviewer.

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Why Does McKinsey Use Case Interviews?

The case interviews closely resemble real projects that McKinsey consultants tackle on the job. In fact, some managers like to adapt projects they have worked in for the case interviews. Rest assured, learning to case is not a pointless exercise.

The case interviews test problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, business acumen, and client readiness (whether candidates have the professionalism, collaborative attitude, and ability to absorb and act on feedback that is needed to work effectively with clients). One of the qualities clients seek in management consultants is the ability to take a large, ambiguous problem, and distill it into a structured approach.

Structured problem-solving is born out of understanding the problem to be solved, and then using a relevant framework to break down the problem into its component parts.

A management consultant is then expected to drive this structured approach forward with information and deal with new facts and data to reach recommendations and creative solutions.

This is a skill expected of all consultants and practicing case interviews is the fertile ground to plant this seed.

Case interviews do not come naturally to most people, especially experienced hires who might be coming across them for the first time (like I did). However, with dedicated, high volume, and consistent practice, you can become a case interview master.

Approaching the case interview with little or no practice is a recipe for failure.

How to Prepare for the McKinsey Case Interview

One word: practice.

Preparing for case interviews requires doing case interviews first on your own, then practicing with another person. Do a few cases on your own to familiarize yourself with what they are, then do a lot with others to build your skill and polish your delivery.

Begin by finding case interview examples and attempting the cases on your own. Carefully read the case presented and take a structured problem-solving approach.

 We recommend 4 steps to answer a case interview question:

  1.     Understand the question.
  2.     Take a moment to think through a structure for working through the problem.
  3.     Ask questions/do analysis.       
  4.     Provide a recommendation.

A Structured Problem-solving Approach Is Key To Passing Your McKinsey Interview

Structured problem-solving involves taking the problem apart and thinking through its key drivers. For example, if the case is about a company’s profits being hit by headwinds, we will examine Profits as equals to Revenues minus Costs. Therefore, the key drivers of the profit problem are decreasing revenues and/or increasing costs.

The profitability formula is Profits equal revenue (price times units sold) - costs (fixed + variable)

Once the structure is in place, ensure the drivers are MECE (mutually exclusive and cumulatively exhaustive), then begin to ask questions that will help you get to the root of the problem. For example, “Let’s start by looking at the revenue, what are the revenue streams for this company? Have there been any changes in revenue volume?”

After comprehensive analysis of all the drivers, you will be in a position to make creative recommendations.

Once you are comfortable tackling cases on your own, begin to practice questions with another human being.

It is critical to practice case interviews with another person. Benefits of practicing case interviews with a partner:

  1.     Low-risk environment to practice controlling performance anxiety/stage fright.
  2.     Real-time feedback on your approach that you cannot receive practicing on your own.
  3.     Opportunity to deep dive into cases from the perspective of an interviewer and an interviewee.

Find a case interview partner and practice cases together. Take turns being the interviewer and interviewee. Go through actual case interviews mimicking the interview format as closely as possible.

Imagine it is the real interview and take this practice seriously for your maximum benefit.

5 Tips for Passing McKinsey Experienced Hire Interviews

1. Expect Cases Covering Any Industry or Function.

Experienced hires may assume the case they’ll be given will relate to the function or industry they’re an expert in or have worked in. It is possible but rare to have a case interview from your industry or function. This is not a deliberate trick or tactic used by consulting firms but more a consequence of chance. Ask yourself, of all the cases in the world, what are the chances the case will come from your industry?

2. Practice Using a Structured Problem-Solving Approach.

Without practice, experienced hires can find themselves using an unstructured approach to problem-solving. In the consulting world, the common saying is, “We can work away from the wrong framework, we cannot work away from no framework.” This means being unstructured is a difficult offense to forgive.

3. Communicate Clearly.

In an effort to demonstrate business acumen, some experienced hires might use business jargon. Demonstrating understanding of the problem and a structured approach to problem-solving is more important and does not require memorizing business jargon. Avoid abbreviations and if the interviewer uses abbreviations, do not hesitate to clarify the meaning even when you think you know the meaning.

4. Practice Case Math

Case math is an important and unavoidable part of the case interview. It is required that the case math in the interview is done out loud and in collaboration with the interviewer. Most interviewers are happy to walk through your calculations with you and will guide you along.

Case math is not designed to be difficult. The numbers are usually whole numbers and rarely require use of a calculator. However, if the first time you are taking on case math is during the case interview, you may find it challenging or panic resulting in a negative experience.

5. Think of the Case as an Interesting Topic of Discussion

Creating rapport with the interviewer can greatly enhance your case interview experience. Being respectful and leaning in as a learner will go a long way in creating a positive environment for the interviewer and yourself to enjoy the discussion. The interviewer may be younger or less experienced than you. However, remember this is an engagement manager or a partner, this means they are more experienced than you are in consulting. They also recognize the wealth of experience you bring to the firm and would like to help you be successful in the interview process.

The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI)

Leadership

A consultant is expected to take on leadership roles in any engagement. You will be required to lead your workstream independently, drive the client team in finding the data required for analysis, and generate buy-in on recommendations.

 The interviewer will typically be looking for:

  • Experience leading with or without authority
  • Impactful approach to teamwork
  • Inclusivity

Examples of PEI questions on leadership:

  • Tell me about a time you had to drive an initiative forward. What did you do and what was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time you had to bring consensus in a team.
  • Tell me about a time you coached a low-performing colleague to become high-performing. 

Personal Impact

These are typically individual contribution questions. Though consulting projects are a team effort, each consultant is required to work independently on a single or several pieces that contribute to the whole.

During your interview, the interviewer will ask about your individual contributions to a project or initiative your previous teams have worked on.

From an experienced hire, the interviewer will assess:

  • Understanding of how your activities fit into the wider organization strategy.
  • Your ability to influence.
  • Reliability.

Examples of PEI questions on personal impact:

  • Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
  • Have you ever had to change someone’s mind? What did you do and what was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you communicated effectively. How did you know?

Entrepreneurial Drive

A consultant is often required to find solutions that may or may not already exist. In conducting analysis too, a consultant may require data that is not found in the typical data sets. It is paramount that you are able to think beyond what is available to yourself, the team, or the client to find information you can use to make informed decisions.

 From your work experience, the interviewer will be looking for:

  • Ability to identify opportunities for innovation.
  • Creativity in solutions.
  • Practical judgment (using the 80/20 rule).

 Examples of PEI questions on entrepreneurial drive:

  • Describe a time that you created and systematized a process in your workplace. What steps did you take? What worked? What didn’t?
  • In your workplace, tell me about a time you were faced with a difficult challenge. How did you overcome it?
  • Tell me about a time you had to handle ambiguity.  

In the PEI part of the interview, you will be expected to use different examples for each question. Drawing from your large experience in industry, collect several stories and practice narrating them succinctly using the A STAR (E) framework. Do not use the same story twice.

As with the case interviews, find a partner to practice with. Share your stories out loud (not in writing) and invite feedback to refine them. The more you practice the more you understand what you have learned along the way and the more impactful your stories will become.

Your McKinsey Questions

McKinsey Experienced Hire Interview Prep: our McKinsey Questions

The last final part of the case interview is an opportunity for you to ask the interviewer any questions you might have on consulting. These are your future team members interviewing you and this is a good opportunity to get further understanding of the role and the firm.

Some questions you may ask include:

  • What do you enjoy most about consulting? What do you enjoy least about consulting?
  • How is McKinsey thinking about diversity, inclusion, and equity at the team level? Tell me about some of the initiatives in place. Are they successful?
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted working as a team and working with remote client teams?
  • Tell me about a project you are most proud of.

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • The skills McKinsey looks for in experienced hire interviews.
  • What a case interview is and why consulting firms use them.
  • How to prepare for your McKinsey case interviews.
  • How to prepare for the McKinsey fit interview.

About the Author

Dr. Wambui Waiganjo is an Associate Director at Rakuten-Medical Inc. in San Diego California, where she focuses on Corporate Strategy and Business Development. She worked as a Medical Doctor, then transitioned to a strategy role at McKinsey & Co. where she led cross-functional engagements across a variety of industries. Wambui brings 9+ years’ progressive work experience on a wide range of topics and industries in various countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the USA.

Wambui received her MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, focusing on finance and marketing, with a master’s thesis on developing a strategy for using data science (AI, Machine Learning, and real-world evidence) in the drug development life cycle as a competitive advantage for a biopharma company.

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